Of course, you’ve heard of Casablanca. And perhaps you’ve even visited Marrakech or Fez. But Azrou, Morocco? What the heck is there? We stopped in for a few days to find out.
Only about an hour away from busy Fez and Meknes is the calm and tranquil village of Azrou, deep in the Middle Atlas Mountains. The air is noticeably fresh in this area surrounded by beautiful cedar forests. Similar to how Imlil was a nice escape from Marrakech, we found Azrou to be a relaxing getaway from Fez. There’s not a ton to do around here, particularly if you are without car (as we were). Yet we still very much enjoyed our stay in Azrou and found plenty to fill a day or two in addition to unwinding. What we really came here for was to see the Babary Apes. So we ventured into the surrounding cedar forests on a mission to find them.
The Babary Apes Around Azrou
We were really curious to get a glimpse of these wild monkeys but weren’t really sure where to look. Upon investigation we discovered they like to hang out around a place several kilometers outside of town called Cèdre Gouraud, which is one of the largest and oldest cedars in all of Morocco. We got a taxi to take us over there. It turns out that Cèdre Gouraud is also one of the deadest and graffiti-ridden trees in all of Morocco, which was disappointing. However, the rest of the forest was truly remarkable and a complete contrast from the Sahara Desert we had just come from.
But enough about the forest, where are the Barbary Apes? We were hoping that we would spot a few up in a tree somewhere. Instead, they came right out of the forest to greet us. There were dozens of them. They were everywhere. There were big ones, little guys, and mothers holding their babies.
Some were shy and uninterested, and just carried on with their monkey business.
Meanwhile those that appeared curious and playful, cautiously approached. We seemed as nervous about them as they were to us, yet we both seemed to yearn for a connection. What an awesome experience to get up close and personal with these wild monkeys in Morocco! (Note: although they’re called Barbary “Apes,” they’re actually monkeys.)
Don’t Feed the Wildlife
There were some vendors selling peanuts so people can feed the monkeys but we think that’s probably not a great idea. We actually brought a packed lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables but we soon became surrounded by large and aggressive Barbary Apes. And they actually ransacked us, taking our lunch!
We managed to save a can of Pringles and decided it would be best to wait to open it until the primates weren’t in view. Once we had our fill with the monkeys, we went for hike through the magnificent cedars. After a kilometer or so, the coast was clear and we finally popped the top. It was a matter of seconds before dozens of them suddenly appeared again and snatched the canister right from Heather’s hand. They now robbed us a second time! Were they quietly stalking us this whole time that we thought we were alone? Creepy! Anyhow, although we were left hungry, the ordeal was pretty comical. Yet it’s also a lesson on why you shouldn’t feed the wildlife.
What Else to Do in Azrou
The Great Rock: There is a big rock (the Great Rock) which actually gives the town its name. Go see it on the west side of town.
The Souk: Tuesday is market day for Azrou. If you happen to be here just follow the crowds the kilometer or so outside of town for a real authentic experience. You can buy everything from produce, to traditional Moroccan garments, to spices, to goats being sold out of the back of a truck by a guy on a megaphone.
Hiking: There are a number of great hiking opportunities in the surrounding forests. From Cèdre Gouraud, you can take an easy hour long hike through the cedar trees which opens up to a nice valley. Just follow the horse trail to find the way.
If You Go
How to Get to Azrou: Very regular busses and grand taxis make the route from both Meknes to Azrou and Fez to Azrou. Check CTM and Supratours for timetables. Or just show up at the bus station as there’s bound to at least be a local bus heading there soon. We actually arrived to Azrou by local bus from a long all-day bus ride from Rissani, on the fringes of the Sahara, which worked well for us as a post-Sahara side trip.
Taxi to Cèdre Gouraud: We found a taxi to take us from Azrou to Cèdre Gouraud for Dh200 (~$23 USD), wait for two hours, and then take us back. We were slightly concerned that he needed payment upfront, as he could have easily just left us in Cèdre Gouraud, but he made good on his word and waited there to take us back to Azrou.
Where to Stay: There are a number of budget options around town. Most places aren’t yet listed on the major booking sites yet. You’ll probably be okay to just show up and book. We stayed at Hotel Diamant d’Atlas and although it was very basic, it was clean, inexpensive and worked for us. Tip: although the rooms on the left side have private bathrooms and a nice balcony, the wifi doesn’t reach. If you need wifi, ask for a room above the café.
Where to Eat:
- There were lots of good and inexpensive local eateries on the main street to satiate your tagine fix. Many of the owners here are willing to further offer discounts for your business.
- The restaurant in Hotel de Cedres has a good a good 3-course set menu for Dh80 (~$9) that featured steak upon our visit.
- It was nice to indulge in some western cuisine of pizza, salad, and sandwiches in the upstairs portion of Café Boulangerie Bilal.
Where to Drink: Don’t, unless its tea or coffee you fancy. There are a number of cafes where local men seem to hangout all day getting their caffeine fix. Women didn’t seem welcome.
More: Your can find more of our posts about Morocco, here. And be sure to give us a follow on Facebook to stay connected and receive more travel inspiration, ideas, and tips.
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Lisa Hopkins says
Azrou! What a fun place. On my way from Casablanca my first day my friend took me to see the monkeys. He warned me about my phone and camera, but feeding the not so much! I got robbed by a big monkey we called him “The Chief” I was shocked because I was feeding the little ones and he burst in. I’ll never forget the look on my face when he grabbed food out of my hands. My friend Ali laughed. I have it on video. I just traveled my first time to Morocco in March 2017 and already planning to return! I am happy to hear I wasn’t the only one tricked! 😃
John Widmer says
Haha! I think we may have also seen “The Chief.” Those big ones just seem to come out of nowhere. It’s like they’re hiding until right at a moment where they’re ready to strike and surprise you. Hope you return to Morocco one day. What a beautiful and fascinating country!
Wow!! Great post:) This post gives me flashback.. Haven’t been in Azrou since I was like 10 years old.. I actually live in Sweden but both my parents from Morocco. I’ve been visiting almost every summer but man it’s been a while since I was in Azrou and visiting my monkey friends.. Hope u had a good time, Morocco really is a lovely country for a tourist..
John Widmer says
Glad this post could take you back! We thought Azrou was such an interesting little place in Morocco that often gets overlooked by travelers in favor of some of the bigger more notable cities. If you make it back there one day, please be sure to say hello to those mischievous monkeys monkeys for us 😉